Kris Baha’s life has been saturated in sound from a very early age. The Italian-Armenian born, Australian-raised DJ, producer and sound engineer, who now resides in Berlin, spent his early teens in a covers band, trialled his first CDJ at the age of 14 before going on to learn guitar, piano and percussion.
Fast forward ten years and his musical feats have grown in abundance. At the helm of Power Station – a label which stemmed out of a weekly club night that he used to run in his home of Melbourne – he favours quality over quantity, only releasing music that excites him. The imprint has been home to some of Kris’ own productions which lean towards EBM and industrial, a genre that penetrated Kris’ teenage years but that he admits he couldn’t quite comprehend until later in life. Since his first PS release he’s been making the rounds, landing on labels like Bahnsteig 23, Cocktail d’Amore and most recently Rotterdam’s Pinkman.
We chat to him about his teenage love for Rammstein, keeping that ‘live’ feel and how he tries to laugh at least once before every studio session. This sits alongside a mix of 100% original material.
Ok, strap in. My earliest musical memory was age 12 or 13 and being utterly obsessed with German band Rammstein. How obsessed? Forming a cover band with two other friends who also shared this weird obsession and dying my hair silver as they did in their 1998 Berlin concert. We rehearsed every Wednesday during lunch and after school and finally got to preform our covers at the school assembly – all sung in German. I was on keys and vocals. As you have probably figured out by now, we were very popular kids…
This was the gateway to being able to delve deeper into acts like Throbbing Gristle, NIN and also into more darker tones of music, as well as a genre called ‘industrial music’, which I could not comprehend or fully grasp at the time, due to my age, until much later on. As most phases you go through I explored all kinds of music – synth pop, wave, indie, rock and electronic music right through to classical guitar and acid jazz.
Whilst all this was going on I was lucky enough to be brought up by my dads interest in the current dance music of the time – 2001 onwards – which he collected for his work as a director/ producer of cabaret and theatre shows. At one point he came home with a turntable and one of the first Pioneer CDJ models, a CMX5000, which I messed around with no avail of how one would use it, until I was about 14 and started to make the connection between live electronic music and dance music, in turn learning how to DJ. My brother was also heavily into dance music so we both learned and bought records together.
Have you had any professional musical schooling? What first led you into music production?
I was getting piano lessons during my first year at college, as well as teaching myself guitar, but then I decided to ditch the piano lessons and switch to guitar as my primary instrument which I did my final exam pieces on. I ended up teaching myself piano and keys as well as bass and percussion.
During my early time at college I was making terrible electronic music, including some trance, but mainly with the mindset of trying to juxtapose styles to create new ones. My naive teenager rock guitar phase was one of the main intersections I was constantly at for a while – a postlude symptom to my Rammstein discovery and their fuse of electronic sounds and sequences mixed with direct guitar licks and live or electronic drums. This approach to music was a revelation to me, so I was reading about how to make it possible in a live format through books and limited internet forums at the time, for example how a drummer would be playing along to sequences and a ‘click’ on stage, pre the era of laptops.
My first piece of equipment was a Roland Mc909 groove box in 2002, before we had laptops at school or a computer powerful enough at home to make music on or download any music software. I was also heavily into music production and sound engineering and went to university for a bachelor in Audio Production after college. But I dropped out as the music project I was in at the time was about to sign to a major label – which I’m glad didn’t in the end – so I ended up teaching myself the rest. I stayed in contact with two uni buddies after I’d left and formed a studio collective called Sound Machine Recording Studios which we still run today. We got lucky and stumbled onto some corporate work which allowed us to buy some nice equipment, for me some synthesisers when they were still cheap, and set ourselves up with a proper recording studio at the time. We designed, built it and then worked with local bands and more clients to develop our skill sets. We obviously recorded a lot of our own music projects and bands that we were all in as well.
Can you talk us through how you might construct a track? How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?
For my solo music the only samples I use are drum hits which are generally re-sampled from older drum machines, synthesised drum sounds and some sound collage, avant-garde percussion concerts which are more like noise percussion rather then conventional elements. Everything else is original and I mainly play everything by hand where I can to keep the ‘live’ feel. It’s a cliche but it starts with me noodling on a synth or drum pattern on my Octatrack or Tempest and which ever grabs me first I go from there until it reveals itself. I really try to keep all my projects as separate as possible, mainly the sounds I use, synthesisers, drum machine and effect choices, otherwise I feel the lines become blurred. I guess with each project I’m involved in we really feel we have something else to say that isn’t being said with our own music.
Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio? Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?
I burn loads of coconut incense and drink two coffees, oh and I try to laugh at least once when I wake up.
Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your productions?
Yes, some producers in my immediate circles are Charles Manier, June, Das Ding, An-i, Tolouse Low Trax and Forces. In my outer circles, artists, bands and producers like Hard Corps, Chris & Cosey, Conny Plank, Dave Friedman, SPK, Severed Heads and Adrian Sherwood.
What kind of stuff do you reach for in your DJ sets? Name three records that are firmly in your bag at the moment?
I’ll skip the first question and give you an extra three records I’m playing out a lot.
You run Power Station, a label which was spawned from a weekly club night you ran in Melbourne. We loved the last release from Piska Power. How’s the label going? What’s on the horizon?
I only put out music that I find interesting and exciting, so I guess it doesn’t run like a traditional label outputting as much music as it can to stay active, but that being said we are now distributing from Sound Metaphors here in Berlin, which is just down the road from my apartment and studio. It’s a lovely change to be able to go down and speak face to face with Nemo, who runs SM, and nut out our releases, as well as bringing friends down to the shop to give them copies. Next on the release front is an EP from Jensen Interceptor, an EP of new music from Das Ding, a Piska Power LP, a collaboration between Nick Murray and myself, and I’ll do another EP on at some stage too.
Release wise, you’ve had an onslaught of new stuff lately! Some amazing stuff on Pinkman, Bahnsteig 23 and CockTail d’Amore. Could you tell us a bit about what you’ve got coming up?
I have an album that’s almost done which will come out on Cocktail as well as a few cameos. One on Pinkman for the Five Years of Tears Vol 2 – I’m really stoked about being included in the five year celebration of the label. I’ve got another VA release on Lithuanian club institution, Opium, which is a remix for Jack Pattern, HLM83, Joakim, Inhalt & Juan Ramos, and there are some other bits lined up for later in the year on Neubau & Especial. As Die Orangen we have our remix packs coming out from the LP soon as well as another LP we’ve have done in collaboration with Jono Ma (Jagwar Ma), and finally there will be a new project release with the talented Niklas Wandt and myself on Themes For Great Cities.
You’ve been performing live recently, how long have you been working on that? What can we expect from it?
I spent about one month preparing for the first live show at ADE last year but I had already been playing live with Dreems in Die Orangen for a few months prior so it was a pretty easy transition. I’ve played in various electronic bands since I can remember so I’m pretty used to a ‘live’ format. Expect the noise of metal pieces being struck.
As you’ve previously mentioned, alongside Dreems, our first Self-Portrait guest, you produce and perform as Die Orangen. Could you tell us a bit about that dynamic in terms of production? Any releases or shows coming up?
Angus and I have known each other for a long time back in Aus, so when we finally had a chance to freak out in the studio the first result was ‘Oodnadatta Rain’. I think what makes our dynamic work is that we both bring something different to this project which we might not be touching on in our own productions. We’ve become fully aware of what this project is and everything we do is pretty organic, even though we are up for trying new things.
This mix is comprised of 100% original Kris Baha material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?
I chose a selection of music I have made that could maybe explain a narrative I sometimes use when I DJ or play live.
Anything else on the horizon we should know about?
More plugs? Well then, I’m playing in Europe at the moment. This weekend I’ll be playing live at the Mannequin Nacht Party with Trevor Jackson, Alessandro Adriani & JASSS at Säule/Berghain and at Opium Club in Vilnius on Saturday. Next Friday 27th April, you can catch me DJing at Radion in Amsterdam.